Alone At A Table For Two

I’ve strapped myself to a pair of shoes. They’re not my favorite, but they may be his. They’re maroon and they used to shine. I used to shine, too, but I was never maroon. They’re tight around the ankles, tight enough to have commandeered my thoughts until something more painful takes their place at the forefront of my mind. They’re not my favorite shoes.

“Ready to order, sir?”

The waiter also has maroon shoes, though his are far louder than mine. I can’t say how tight they are around his ankles, but by his obvious attempt to conceal his exasperation behind a coltish smile and ruddy cheeks, I can only assume they aren’t the most painful thing this particular paradigm of cheap human capital is experiencing. He probably listens to Pearl Jam. His hair is even louder than his shoes. It’s not my favorite hair.

I smile politely, as society has instructed me to do. “I’m still waiting for a friend of mine, thank you. Some more water, perhaps.”

His shoes lead him and his Pearl Jam hairs away to another table, the pained smile never leaving his face. I return to examining the menu, feigning interest in the daily soups. Today is Thursday, tomato bisque. I cringe, if only slightly. I spent the better portion of my life trying to convince myself I liked tomato bisque. Or maybe I cringed with the knowledge that the conversation at hand would likely be even less palpable than the bisque of my haunted past.

“Coop? Is that you?”

If I stare at the menu a bit longer, maybe he’ll think he’s mistaken me for someone else. Yes, that’s it. Just focus on the words. Aperitivos. How pretentious. This is Fayetteville, not Bologna. And that orange stain on the cushion of my seat is definitely a byproduct of Velveeta.

“Oh Coop, you old dog. Always playing your mind games. Stand up and show me some love, brother!”

I stand up. My hand moves. We sit down. I say something about the Broncos. I say something about a new vacuum. I say something about the kids and the wife and the dog, but not in that order, because to him they are all the same as the vacuum.

The water never comes. I realize you can’t spell waiter without water. In fact, you can’t do most things without water, and this waiter can’t do most things regardless of how hydrated he may or may not be. I spend most of the meal thinking about water.

“Oh Coop, you old dog. You’ve crawled back into your head again. Say, you ever gone to that fish fry joint down the road…..”

I should have ordered the tomato bisque.

When I sat down at this table, I had every intention of writing a love story. Something beautifully tragic, the kind of story that plunges into your lungs, does a few laps, and suddenly decides to rip your heart into a thousand pieces. It’s the kind of pain we wish we were more perfectly acquainted with, because it’s the kind of pain that reminds us we’re still alive. It was going to be a great love story, I promise. Not one of those Hugh Grant love stories. There’s nothing wrong with Hugh Grant or his love stories, but this wasn’t going to be one of them. It was going to use the word “limerence”, and she was going to have a garden where she buried piano keys, and he was going to paint Japanese flowers on the walls of her office. There wouldn’t even be any car crashes.

Instead I wrote this story. Sorry.